"BE YOU" Story Project


 

The UCF Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) is continuing the “BE YOU” Storytelling Project – the sharing of the life stories of our diverse students, faculty and staff in our semester newsletter, as well as at campus events. Every member of the UCF community brings their own life story and combination of identities and experiences to our campus, and UCF is the richer for it.

 

Our community members’ stories can bridge the gap of myth and misunderstanding that seem to separate us, by revealing our shared humanity and highlighting the unique path we take toward self-realization.

 

These stories will be featured in the print and electronic version of the newsletter and posted on our “News” page, a new addition coming soon to our website. Some of the stories will also be part of the UCF Diversity and Inclusion Wall in the Hitt Library for the month of October.

 

Tell your story and encourage your classmates and colleagues to contribute to a more inclusive UCF.

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GUIDELINES

  • 500-word story of your experience or an important event impacting your life
  • One quote addressing the topic “What Respect Means to Me”
  • One high-resolution photo to accompany the story

 

CONTACT FOR SUBMISSIONS, REFERRALS OR QUESTIONS



Stories


Every member of the UCF community brings their own life story and combination of identities and experiences to our campus. “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Sharing our stories brings humanity to our understanding of difference and the similarities we all share.

Daria Kudryasheva #FacesofUCF

Daria Kudryasheva #FacesofUCF

Mais Al-Jabbawi #FacesofUCF

Mais Al-Jabbawi #FacesofUCF

Vierne Placide #FacesofUCF

Vierne Placide #FacesofUCF

Swaran Nandini #FacesofUCF

Swaran Nandini #FacesofUCF

Ganga Hewage #FACESOFUCF

Ganga Hewage #FACESOFUCF

Charlotte Wallace #FACESOFUCF

Charlotte Wallace #FACESOFUCF

Noora Dawood #FacesofUCF

Noora Dawood #FacesofUCF

Hana Ellamey #FacesofUCF

Hana Ellamey #FacesofUCF

Sofia Baptista

Sofia Baptista

Stephanie Lopez

Stephanie Lopez

Natalie Lopez

Natalie Lopez

Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso

Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso

Ben Sanders

Ben Sanders

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Daria Kudryasheva #FacesofUCF

Daria Kudryasheva #FacesofUCF


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Mais Al-Jabbawi #FacesofUCF

Mais Al-Jabbawi #FacesofUCF


“UCF Stands for Opportunity This made me think of the wonderful things I can be part of to make a difference.”

 

I am an Iraqi woman who is married, raising two kids with her husband, and getting her PhD in the TESOL Track at the College of Education and Human Performance at UCF. This is my story as an international student here at UCF.  This is who I am.

 

Thank you, Mom – My mother is my first teacher in life. She was an English teacher for 30 years and now she is retired. I always wanted to be like her when I grew up.

 

My first journey into the United States of America started when I was admitted to the Iraqi Fulbright Visiting Scholars Program in 2012. I spent ten weeks at Eastern Washington State University getting the chance to explore new ideas, beliefs, traditions, and society.

 

A big change in my life was the admission to UCF and my PhD program, a dream come true. I chose to attend UCF for graduate school because of its diverse student community which is in one of the most diverse cities in the world. In 2014, I graduated from CMMS with high grades that raised my confidence in my abilities as an international Iraqi woman living in a foreign country. Fall 2014, I started my first semester in the TESOL doctoral program with a lot of stress because of the different educational system between the American universities and the Iraqi universities. By the end of the first semester, though, I could manage the three courses with good grades and planning for the Spring semester with more confidence and understanding of the UCF regulations.

 

UCF Stands for Opportunity This made me think of the wonderful things I can be part of to make a difference. I became a member in Volunteer UCF, Graduate Student Association, CERT at UCF, UCF Arboretum, and many others. Also, I started volunteering in schools, helping ESL refugees and immigrants in Florida schools, especially Tampa.

 

When I graduate, I will keep teaching English language as a second or foreign language at the university level. I will keep raising my kids to be aware of the importance of helping and standing up for others who can’t defend themselves. I want them to know about diversity and its significance in developing communities. I want them to know that all people are equal, no matter what their color, religion, belief, race, and nationality are! Teaching my boys how to treat and embrace a woman is very important for them and for me.

 

I want to tell people that the Iraqi culture is very friendly and is centered around helping strangers. Helping strangers is one of our priorities that made Reuters choose Iraqis as the world’s most generous people to strangers in 2016. This is one of the reasons I do so much volunteer work at UCF and the surrounding community.  It helps my kids see the humanity in doing such things and how joyful it can be.

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Vierne Placide #FacesofUCF

Vierne Placide #FacesofUCF


“UCF is equipping me with the expertise and tools needed to share my passion of creating a more integrative bridge with HIV and Addiction Medicine in primary care, with the goal of improving the continuum of care.”

 

 

I was born on the tiny island of Montserrat (known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean), and raised with a unique Caribbean culture that also incorporates its Irish history. Most people have never even heard of my island. Natural disasters, such as Hurricane Hugo in 1990 that destroyed 90% of the island, and then eruptions from the Soufriére Hills volcano, which demolished two-thirds of the island, taught me resilience at an early age.  My faith, family, friends, and football give me the most joy.  I am a person that love spending time with friends and family, listening to music, shopping and traveling…but the traveling is on hold right now, as I focus on finishing the PhD Program.

 

I am currently pursuing my Doctorate in Public Affairs with a concentration in Health Services Management and Research at UCF. After working as a public health practitioner for a number of years, I saw first hand the risks, problems, trends, and barriers to treatment. I developed an interest in public policies and interventions to reduce HIV prevalence & prescription drug misuse in young adults. I was drawn to UCF because of the interdisciplinary curriculum in the PAF Program, which connected with my research areas.

 

UCF is equipping me with the expertise and tools needed to share my passion of creating a more integrative bridge with HIV and Addiction Medicine in primary care, with the goal of improving the continuum of care. I would also like to teach at the university level to provide students with an understanding and awareness of implications, preventions, interventions, and treatments of Addiction Medicine and HIV.

 

In addition to my classroom experience, UCF also has a large multicultural/international community.  I enjoy the heritage months celebrated throughout the year on campus. I do miss Montserrat, though.  I miss the island serenity and genuine spirit of everyone you meet.  It is a very loving and carefree society, where it seems as though everyone is an extended family member. Leaving your car and house doors unlocked, because of the low crime rate is customary. I always enjoy sharing my culture and learning new cultures, as vast diversity exists at UCF.

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Swaran Nandini #FacesofUCF

Swaran Nandini #FacesofUCF


It is not easy to be a woman international student in a foreign country, but it is worthwhile to take that step ahead to receive life-changing experiences.

 

Hi! My name is Swaran Nandini and I am an international student from New Delhi, India. Currently I am pursuing a PhD in the Biomedical Sciences Program at UCF. I also love teaching weekly Group Exercise Classes (Spin Cycling and Sweat Boot Camp) at the UCF Recreation and Wellness Center. I chose to attend UCF for three main reasons –  the international student diversity on the UCF Campus, research of my interest in the Biomedical Sciences program, and the favorable winter conditions in Florida!

 

I spent the first 21 years of my life in India and then moved to Orlando in 2011 to pursue an MS degree at UCF. My parents are medical doctors and they were very strict when I was growing up. There is lot of academic pressure in India and I felt like I was an average student in high school and as an undergrad. My life changed when I moved to the US as an international student. UCF helped me realize my true potential and helped me develop academically, personally, and professionally via leadership roles. I have been fortunate enough to receive various awards along the way and was nominated twice for the Order of Pegasus Award.

 

I did miss the comfort zone of staying in my home country during the initial few months of moving here to Orlando. However, today I am super glad that I took a risk to step out of the comfort zone. It is not easy to be a woman international student in a foreign country, but it is worthwhile to take that step ahead to receive life-changing experiences. Luckily, UCF has been a second home away from home for me. I am surrounded by very optimistic and culturally receptive domestic students at UCF, and they have been very supportive of me and other international students.  It is important for me to remind people that immigrant/international students put their hearts, souls, sweat, and everything else in advancing the academics/research of this country. Their work ethics have, and will, help the USA to be as great as it can be.

 

My two cents to every UCF Knight (international or domestic) – is that they should try to make the best use of their time at UCF. There are tons and tons of growth opportunities at UCF; learn new skills/knowledge here and prepare well for the life after UCF!

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Ganga Hewage #FACESOFUCF

Ganga Hewage #FACESOFUCF


“As Sri Lankans, we value education and believe everyone should have access to education irrespective of their gender.”

I was born and raised in the beautiful Asian island nation of Sri Lanka. In some of the eastern cultures, women are not allowed to fulfill their dreams and they are kept away from education. However, as Sri Lankans, we value education and believe everyone should have access to education irrespective of their gender. I enjoyed being an independent woman and being able to achieve my dreams in Sri Lanka.

Prior to coming to the USA, I obtained my MBA and worked as a senior manager in a multinational conglomerate, but I still felt the need to create my own identity.  I wanted to stand up on my own feet. I wondered what my strengths were and how I could utilize them. I wanted a career change. I used to work as an adjunct faculty in Sri Lanka and enjoyed teaching. I liked an academic career, and as a result, I decided to pursue a PhD.

My first barrier was get through the GMAT exam, which is a requirement to enter a business school. This exam was challenging, especially for an international student. I spent more than nine months working for this exam and sitting for it a couple of times, but I would not give up, as it was the only way that I could achieve my dream of reestablishing my identity. I applied to few business schools and was fortunate to get an interview from UCF, which had the research concentration that I was interested in. UCF evaluated all my achievements, rather than basing their decision on just the test scores.

I started the program in Fall 2014. I thought that things would get easier, but I was wrong. There were more obstacles in my way. I moved to Florida, alone, as my husband could not join me because of his job. I have never lived alone in my life and it was a whole new experience. In my first semester, I had to take 13 credit hours and had to adjust myself to the new environment. I missed my family so much.  I did not have a driver’s license and commuting made life much harder. I passed the first year qualifying exam, but by then, I was the only student who survived in my cohort. This made my second year difficult, leading up to my candidacy exam.

I am currently in my third year as a marketing doctoral student.  Looking back, I’m proud about myself and the hardships that have made me stronger. I would not have come so far without the help of my husband, my parents, and my father-in-law who believed in me. Although I have another two years to complete the program, I’m confident that I’m closer to my dream. Most of all, I’m honored to be part of UCF family.

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Charlotte Wallace #FACESOFUCF

Charlotte Wallace #FACESOFUCF


UCF is a school that encourages and strengthens diversity.[…] UCF has helped me to state that I am proud to be international, and I am proud to be a woman..”

My name is Charlotte Wallace and I am originally from the Midlands in the United Kingdom. I moved around a lot in my childhood, living in various places across the U.K; Antwerp, Belgium; Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania; and Panama City Panama. One of my hobbies is to travel as I love to experience different places, cultures and meet new people – one of the reasons I chose to study at UCF! I try to travel as much as I can during breaks and have visited lots of places across the Americas, Europe, Australia, China, United Arab Emirates and Africa.

My major is Theatre and I plan to use this to become a drama teacher/ director in high schools. Whilst living abroad, I have acted, directed and stage managed in a number of performances, including directing an updated version of Alice in Wonderland with middle schoolers in Tanzania.

I chose to come to UCF because of the fantastic cultural diversity, a great theatre program and because I wanted to experience another place and meet new people. I love England, as that is where I was born and raised, and where my family still resides. There are a lot of aspects of the U.K that people are not aware of: some of my favourite parts are hiking in the breathtaking countryside, fish and chips at seaside towns and a cozy traditional pub in mid-winter.

I have only recently started my journey at UCF but I would like to be a real part of the community by bringing my knowledge about different cultures and how each of those has a unique theatre style to the university. My wish is to be able to one day direct my own small performance at UCF; casting, directing and overseeing the process to gain even more experience for my future career. I love the community feeling of UCF and feel like I am now part of the Knight family!

It was daunting at first; starting a new school, in a new country, surrounded by new people. I was anxious about being accepted and fitting in, but from the moment I stepped on campus I realized that I didn’t need to worry, or try and change myself to fit in. I have been encouraged to be myself and be proud of who I am. As part of the Theatre department I feel like I have been embraced and pushed to reach my full potential by both my professors and fellow students.

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Noora Dawood #FacesofUCF

Noora Dawood #FacesofUCF


Being an international female student at UCF has made me feel encouraged and motivated to excel in my field. I believe that this is because of the general welcoming environment that UCF has fostered amongst the students and faculty. I am very proud to be a part of this community.”

 

 

My name is Noora Dawood. I was born and raised in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Currently, I am pursing my Bachelors in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Central Florida. I chose to attend UCF mainly because the engineering program stood out to me. UCF is a university that is largely research-based and, as a result, forms a lot of partnerships with other technology and industry companies. Not only are the engineering programs at UCF strong because of the experienced faculty, but also because of the various opportunities available to me outside the classroom.

The leaders in my country have opened the path of success for me and other Emiratis in the UAE. Their ‘number one’ ideology is what drives us to become better, and their support has allowed us to pursue what we love. But most importantly, as a female Arab, I am especially proud of what my leaders have done to open gateways for women to prosper in entrepreneurship, research, leadership, and many other areas. I am proud to be from a country that values its youth.

I truly value the people that built my character: my parents. My parents pushed me from a very young age to break boundaries and pursue what I enjoy. They instilled the values they felt were important, while at the same, they exposed me to other perspectives and encouraged my curiosities. My parents always emphasized family time; back home we did most things as a family unit: dining and cycling being the main activities. Perhaps what I really miss, aside from their company, is the comfort and security of home.

Outside of academics, I am a Math tutor for Global UCF and a Project Assistant in the Office of Administration and Finance. In addition, I am also a Global UCF and STEM Ambassador. The positions I hold in UCF have allowed me to contribute both within the UCF community and outside. I have enjoyed helping Global UCF students with their transition to UCF academically and socially. In addition, the STEM ambassadorship has allowed me to give back by encouraging youngsters to pursue a degree in the STEM field. I am happy that UCF values my international perspective in this community, and more importantly, I would like to leave a legacy of inspiration for future students of diverse backgrounds.

My journey to UCF has been an experience that has helped me grow and will continue to shape me both personally and professionally. My experience so far has truly taught me that UCF stands for opportunity, and the level of inclusiveness I have felt here has sincerely touched me and allowed me flourish. Being an international female student at UCF has made me feel encouraged and motivated to excel in my field. I believe that this is because of the general welcoming environment that UCF has fostered amongst the students and faculty. And for that, I am very proud to be a part of this community.

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Hana Ellamey #FacesofUCF

Hana Ellamey #FacesofUCF


The experience of being a woman living abroad and studying at UCF has enriched my personality tremendously by becoming more responsible and independent.”

 

My name is Hana Ellamey and I am an Egyptian student studying at UCF. I’m majoring in Integrated Business and I love it so far.

I lived in Egypt my entire life and went to the same school until I graduated high school. We learned three languages: Arabic, French and English, which helped me communicate with people from different backgrounds. I decided to transfer to UCF from a college in Egypt during my sophomore year to get a better education and college experience. When I first arrived, I didn’t know a single person but I worked my way up from there. This experience really helped me to adapt easily to change.

My father was worried at first about the idea of me travelling and living in the United States. He was probably worried because he felt that by being a girl, I wouldn’t be able to handle daily life problems. My dad has four daughters, that’s why he’s always worried. I have three sisters that live in Egypt right now; two are still in high school and one graduated from the University of Florida last spring. The experience of being a woman living abroad and studying at UCF has enriched my personality tremendously by becoming more responsible and independent. I definitely miss my country and my family (including my dogs) everyday, but at the same time I know I will miss my life here at UCF after I graduate.

Being an International student enriched my college experience because I got to meet students from all over the world and exchange information about our cultures. My friends are sometimes shocked at the differences between our cultures. It’s amazing how students are accepting and open to learn and understand about different cultures. This experience helped me to become more open minded and accepting of other cultures regardless of our differences. I also get the chance to clear any stereotypes they might have about my culture!

Surprisingly, a lot of people ask me if I lived in a tent or went to school on a camel when I tell them I’m from Egypt! I’m glad I’m here to clear any misconceptions they might have. I would like everyone to know that no one in Egypt lives in the pyramids and that we have houses and cars just like here!

I am a member of a national service sorority called Omega Phi Alpha in which we volunteer to help the community; and the Vice President of the International Student Association where we help share knowledge about other cultures to the student body. I feel that I have contributed greatly to the UCF community, both as a student and through the roles I’ve held on campus.

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Sofia Baptista

Sofia Baptista


Sofia Baptista, a self-proclaimed math enthusiast, is a special statistic all her own.  More  than  7,000  undergrads  are  enrolled  in  UCF’s  College  of  Engineering  and  Computer Science.  Of  those  7,000-plus,  19  student-athletes  have  selected  engineering  as  a  major.  Of those 19 Knights, ten are female. 

And Baptista, a UCF women’s tennis Senior from Portugal, happens to be one of them. She has not given a second thought to classifying her life or situation as unique. 

When she was 11, she contracted mononucleosis, but doctors failed to properly diagnose her at  first. Thinking  it  could  be  a  number  of  other ailments,  she underwent  multiple  treatments and had her tonsils removed, but she said it took roughly three years to fully recover.

She  lost  her  muscle  mass  and  her  confidence  was  shaken.  She  grew  frustrated  at  her  weak body and losing to “lesser” competition.

“But I never gave up,” Baptista said. “I always went to practice five days a week, even when everyone  told  me  it  was  not worth  it  and that the  best thing  to  do  was to  quit tennis.  And  it did pay off. Finally I started improving. It was a long process but I ended up stronger than I was before. At 15, I was in the top-five of my country, and now I’m here at UCF.”

It’s  a  move  that  has  worked  out  well  for  the  beach  lover,  who  knew  if  she  was  going  to accept a scholarship in the States, it had to be somewhere with a tropical climate.  Baptista has been interested in structures and math from an early age, so pursuing a degree in civil engineering seemed like a no-brainer to her. 

During  her sophomore year, to her delight, she was selected for the UCF Civil, Engineering and   Construction   Engineering   (CECE)   Department   Sophomore   Award   for   outstanding academic  achievement.  As  an  incentive,  she  earned  a  day  shadowing  a  Disney  Imagineer. She toured backstage of the Magic  Kingdom and saw the inner workings of everything  from ride maintenance to transportation at the parks. 

Baptista said the experience was the first time she saw her future in action, not just in books and  papers.  Whether  she  ends  up  at  the “Happiest  Place  on  Earth”  or  building  bridges  in underdeveloped  regions  of  Africa,  Baptista  is  certain  she  is  setting  herself  up  now  for  a fulfilling career ahead.

Baptista  stated “the  respect  I  have  for  my  teammates  and  coaches  has  aided  my  respect  for my classmates and professors.  I know how to work in a team environment and respect is key to success- in the classroom, on the tennis court, and in life.”

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Stephanie Lopez

Stephanie Lopez


Respect. A word so broad and so little practiced. Is it simple words such as please, thank you, ma’am, sir, or hi? Is it respect when you help and you are not called for? Many times in my life I felt the pressure, the stares, the glares and the prying, judgmental eyes…watching.  The words read in between lines. Yes there has been times when I been tormented, told and looked down, that I could not, and would not be able to achieve the “illusory” dreams I had. You are a women, you are young, you don’t know what you are getting into, because you are minority you can get so far, it takes brains, dedication and ambition, you, you, you…that is all I heard. But where is written that I cannot, I must not, I should not, I dare because such limitation are due to imagination, discrimination and because such possibilities had not been seen or fulfilled.

Ignorance, self-pity, and excuses the fundamentals of dreams deferred. But acceptance, knowledge and reasons are things I’ve obtain throughout the years, in order to stand my ground. YES! I want to accomplish great things, I want change lives, and people who are like me. It is okay to dream, to think, to love something which is silently prohibited. It is okay to begin and finish the race where no one has ran. It’s okay to be called dreamers, imaginers, mad people because the best people are. In the end the only eyes I wish for is admirations, love and respect!

Its true that I have to work harder than anyone else not because I want to prove people wrong, but to prove that I am right. There has been times where I been told that engineering was not something I should consider because it is hard, competitive, and rigorous. It’s true, but why would it be hard if it is I love.

Coming from my area, it was thought that was a privilege not given to everyone. Many believe that if I would start I would not finish, that if I dream I could end up broken. It could be true, but it could be true that by doing that I would live with regrets, with a flame of hope that I put out. I don’t believe that those like me should throw their dreams away from the words of others.

Respect. Respect what your peer, your brother, your friend. Stereotyping is not respect, assuming what category Hispanics, lesbians, women, and people of different religion fit into. It’s not a box, a square that we check off that gives us a sentence of restrictions. Don’t speculate, deduce, affirm characteristics and possibilities from identify, this will only lead to segregation among the crowds. Acceptance is the answer that rings the bell on Sunday morning to bring the people together. To those who like me were told stop, let motivation not be to prove people wrong, but to do something great. It just all about…equality. Acceptance is the sunshine at open people’s eye from a night of darkness.

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Natalie Lopez

Natalie Lopez


Simply, respect is equality. To me, respect means treating every person I encounter equally, irrespective to gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.  I treat people the same way I would hope to be treated, without judgement or prejudice. If I have an opinion, I would want others to respect that opinion. I keep this thought in mind when interacting with other people, whose opinions I may or may not agree with. Accepting everyone’s right to an opinion is one of the major aspects that make up the concept of respect.

In my experience, respect can also be defined as the act of accepting other people’s thoughts and ideals, without judgement, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. This is a major facet to respect that not everybody is capable of, as of yet. I have experienced many people who are still not able to accept that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This causes controversy when it comes to things like religion. A lot of people are unable to accept other people’s ideals or beliefs, without any form of judgement. In fact, I sometimes find it hard, as well, to show acceptance to some ideals that I don’t agree with. However, to practice respect would be to accept others’ right to their beliefs, just like I have a right to my beliefs. This form of respect isn’t always shown in our culture. Many are even rebuffed for their beliefs. Hopefully though, through education and an inclusive culture, this type of mentality can be changed. Showing respect to someone is having the capability to “agree to disagree.”

Respect isn’t just accepting other people’s opinions or ideals, though. It is also being sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings. This is the behavioral trait that many people associate with the word respect. However, respect doesn’t just mean being nice to someone. It means being conscious about what other people may be feeling and responding to their feelings in the way you would like to be treated. In this form, respect is being aware that other people also have feelings, and that those feelings should be acknowledged and taken into account.

Everyone has experienced a time when they were disrespected. From experience, I can tell that being disrespected makes you feel bad inside, almost worthless or contemptible, like you’re not good enough to be speaking to the person disrespecting you. In reality, that’s what disrespecting someone does. When you disrespect someone, you’re essentially showing contempt; you’re showing that this person is not good enough to deserve your respect. This is not, and never should be, the case. While I personally believe in the phrase, “Respect is earned,”there is a fundamental respect that each human being should always have for one another. This respect comes from the acknowledgement that the person you’re speaking to is your equal. It is the respect that every person should have when entering any situation. It is the respect that should come from being human.

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Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso

Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso


Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso is currently in his second semester at Global UCF. He talks with a big smile, and peppers his speech with a hearty laughter. He’s a natural when it comes to numbers. He’s quick to offer assistance to classmates who are having a hard time in areas he excels at, such as math. Claudio’s from Angola and from an early age decided that he wanted to pursue an education in Engineering. It was his tenacity, dedication, and persistence that brought him to the University of Central Florida.

When Claudio was 14, his brother purchased his first home computer when majoring in Informatics. Claudio spent time with his brother learning how to fix computers and electronic devices, and he was hooked. He knew what he wanted to do in life, and was determined to make it happen. Soon, Claudio was teaching himself the ins and outs of the family’s computer.

In Angola, where he grew up, students choose their education track when entering high school. Claudio chose Technical Communication and Engineering. In his spare time, he tutored kids in his neighborhood in general education, prioritizing his time after school and weekend nights. After high school, he spent two years studying in Namibia. He studied English as a Second Language in his first year, then moved to Telecommunication Systems. He knew he wanted more of his education and began to pursue options of studying abroad, but was rejected several times. Rejection, it seems, is fuel to Claudio’s ambition. Claudio dreamt bigger.

By happenstance, he met a recruiter from France who told him about the Global UCF program at the University of Central Florida. His family wasn’t sure about sending him so far away from home, given that his brothers were completing their education in Europe so there would be no familiar faces around for support. Despite his family’s initial skepticism at studying so far away, he became determined to follow through with the application at UCF. The university has a highly ranked Engineering department (and we can’t say that the weather didn’t help his decision either). There were many sleepless nights until finally receiving his acceptance letter from UCF. It taught him that if you want something hard enough, you have to put your heart and soul into achieving it.

When asked to define respect, Claudio said, “Respect to me means treating other people right. You can’t look at people and think they’re above or below you – I try to see everyone as equals, and aim to treat them as I would like to be treated myself. Pride is the opposite of that and I value being able to apologize if I’m wrong.”

After graduating from UCF, Claudio dreams of building a technology manufacturing company to help the communication process in Angola. He wants to make an impact in his home country and create an environment for learning and growing, giving back to that community.

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Ben Sanders

Ben Sanders


My family is from the suburb of Codsall, outside the industrial city of Wolverhampton in the West Midlands. My parents were looking for a better life experience and chose the USA because of the better quality of life and multiple opportunities for my entire family. We assumed that the American and British cultures would be somewhat similar, but in reality they differ quite greatly. The difference between visiting on vacation and actually living here was surprising; more so for my sister and I because we had to assimilate into a new culture. It took me some time to adjust, but really high school was when I felt that I completely fit in. I had to learn how to conquer the patented British social awkwardness and use the correct terminology in conversation. Nowadays, if I didn’t have my heinous West Midland accent no one would be any the wiser.   

We moved to Saint Cloud, FL, just southeast of Kissimmee, in January 2007. I began to attend Saint Cloud High School in fall 2007 and knew no one and at first struggled to make friends, until I started playing soccer. I graduated in June 2011 and then spent two years at Valencia Community College attaining my Associates degree while still playing soccer. I transferred to UCF in the summer 2014 with a new International Students Visa. I am getting my Bachelors in Journalism and a minor in Sports Business Management. It is probably the best decision I have ever made for myself.  Not only has it boosted my confidence and provided a spark, it has also given me opportunities and experiences I never would’ve had back in England. Meeting Professor Bukstein who helped connect with Orlando City Soccer which began my path into sports management.

I first got involved with the RWC after participating in the FC Barcelona soccer camp in June 2014.. After signing up with graduate assistant John Conley, he suggested that I should give officiating a shot. In the Fall of 2014 I completed both the rules and field clinic to become a soccer official. Three minutes into my first game, I had already started developing a passion for soccer officiating. I really like the unique challenge of officiating competitive games and enjoy working with the other officials and staff.

My main goal for the future is to be a community programs manager with Orlando City Soccer Club Foundation. I already volunteer as a coach within the community camps they host for 7-10 year old kids. It is so rewarding to watch the progression of the kids not only on the field but as individuals as they learn soccer and important life skills such as teamwork and respect for others.

My definition of Respect: My meaning of respect is split into three parts. Firstly, to not judge someone at first glance due to what they wear or how they may act. Secondly to listen to what they say and be interested in what they are saying. Finally, it is about treating people the way you want to be treated.